Postcards from the Edge
Tom wanted to revisit his childhood summer in the quaint camps and villages that surround our state’s biggest lake. His wife, Stacy, a city girl, was reluctant to linger where the culinary and cultural highlights were not separated by blocks, but by miles. Could this couple find common ground on their circular tour of Lake Winnipesaukee?
We set out to circumnavigate Lake Winnipesaukee – to take in the whole perimeter of this iconic body of water. But there was another purpose for our journey. We also wanted to bridge the gap between the lake my husband knew as a child – a bucolic, summer refuge, at least for two weeks a year – and my indifference. I’m a native New Yorker, whose only experience with the lake was a couple of trips to Weirs Beach.
But ever since French President Nicolas Sarkozy chose Winnipesaukee as his vacation destination, my interest was piqued. I’ve been to Paris and couldn’t understand why anybody who lived there would ever take a vacation anywhere – never mind a place that no one can spell.
So we took an 80-mile drive around the lake by car.
My husband knows how much I value luxury, so he chose Meredith as our starting point. Smart man.
We checked into the Inn and Spa at Mills Falls, a homey little complex with four inns, seven restaurants, a full-service spa and 15 shops all within walking distance of one another.
Our overnight home was Church Landing with its tricked-out Adirondacks theme, dangerously comfortable beds, in-room fireplace and Jacuzzi, a huge library of books, on-site spa, indoor/outdoor pool, workout facilities, a free continental breakfast and, oh yeah, an amazing view of the lake. In fact, from our room we not only had a view of the tranquil Winnipesaukee, we could walk out the back door and sit on comfy Adirondack chairs and soak it all up.
I needed only to walk out the hotel door to shop and eat my day away. The League of NH Craftsmen store was literally in the same parking lot as our car. A mere stroll across the street and I was trying on shoes and to-die-for frocks at Lady of the Lake boutiques and noshing at Camp Restaurant and later Giuseppe’s Pizzeria & Ristorante, where the salad was spot on and über piano man Giovannie Varano channeled Z.Z. Top, Elton John and The Beatles with the illuminated Mills Falls as his backdrop.
Yes, we had a mission, but I was all set, right here, thankyouverymuch. But my husband coaxed me a few steps away from Mills Falls to Meredith Village.
In a few minutes I was fingering dangling earrings at Her Prerogative Jewelry and Accessories, checking out the amazing collection of brass doorknobs (eat your heart out Aunt Clara) at Once New Vintage Wares and Salvage. At 17 Lake St., Suzanne Lee of Chi-lin Asian Arts and Antiques of Asia offers Asian and Asian-inspired arts and crafts, plus exhibition space. Upstairs at Sartori, try the light lunch on the rooftop tea garden with views of the lake beyond.
I was convinced – in terms of beauty and entertainment, at least this part of the lake lived up to Tom’s promise of Winnipesaukee as an ideal getaway. But the statue of Chief Chocorua on Indian Island seemed to be coaxing us toward the northern, less developed side of the lake. We took a drive on Route 25.
Cupid’s arrow struck when we crossed over the border into Moultonborough and saw seven antique cottages decked out in cunning garden décor and other artsy, crafty items for sale. The Shoppes at Red Hill might be the best example of the repurposing of a business ever. Owners Janet Cutler and husband Bill Page bought the over 100-year-old dollhouse-like buildings, renovated them and made little shops out of them – all but one – which is rented by the Abenaki Trading Company – are filled with vintage home and garden décor arranged artfully, transforming the cottages into dioramas of days gone by. They also contain Cutler’s “New Hampshire wreaths” with adornments like distressed fishing gear and lumberjack black and red flannel.
In Center Harbor I perked up at the sight of Keepsake Quilting – a known entity in the counterpane world. And Tom was ecstatic that Canoe restaurant was still serving his favorite homemade Canoe Chips – with blue cheese sauce.
As we got back in the car I realized my husband needed a nature fix, so we headed to The Loon Center and Wildlife Sanctuary on Lees Mills Road. This was heaven for him – a 200-acre nature preserve on his beloved lake with miles of walking trails. The center is run by the New Hampshire Audubon, which is working to save this mammoth water bird mostly from encroaching development and lead poisoning from fishing sinkers.
Back in the car we traveled southeast on Route 109. “Stop!” Tom slammed on the brakes. It was like we did the Superman-flying-backward-so-quickly-he-turned-back-time thing. I was looking at 1950’s orange gas pumps with “Contains Lead” signs and glass orbs with Gulf Gas insignias on them. Next to that was a one-room post office and garage windows through which vintage Fords could be seen. But this was not Brigadoon but rather Melvin Village, a part of Tuftonboro that to my delight is known for its antique shops and a nice historical society.
It was a leap from those beginning pangs of love to expecting me to climb an 80-foot water tower – view be damned. But that’s what my husband wanted me to do when we came across Abenaki Tower right outside Melvin Village. Maybe next time.
And although the 1912 Libby Museum with its stellar location on the lake and its eclectic collection of natural history artifacts called to me, it too would have to wait for a future visit. We had just passed into Wolfeboro with its “America’s first resort” sign and mama had eating and shopping on her mind.
I grabbed Tom’s hand and practically dragged him to Garwood’s because I heard it had the best lobster bisque ever – so true – and the best blue-blue cheese olives in the martinis. Also true. OK, it also has spectacular lake view seating on the inside and dock seating outside. As we ate we got to watch anglers dangling their rods from a perch on huge wood pilings.
Bolstered by rest, food and drink, I went on a shopping rampage, practically buying out Cornish Hill Pottery, Bootlegger’s and the Country Bookseller. Meanwhile Tom was pardoned from shopping and hit the Wright Museum on Center Street to take in the amazing collection of World War II-o-bilia.
We were off to Alton Bay, a fjord-like narrow on the southeast corner of the lake that you could say was the beginning of my husband’s idyllic Winnipesaukee summers.
Tom pointed out the fishermen of all ages trying their luck at an arched bridge, and we stopped for coffee at Amilyne’s Corner Market Bakery and Deli in an over 100-year-old general store where you can buy anything from bug spray to wooden matches and feast on homemade Boston Cream donuts the size of throw pillows.
That same store is where Tom, from the age of 5, would go to buy candy when his family took their annual two-week vacation at the Ames Farm Inn, a 120-year-old family resort on the banks of the lake down the road in Gilford.
I thought Tom’s memory of this place was a little creative. He was a kid from a working-class Boston suburb. It probably felt like the 1950’s version of Club Med to him but I was sure it was going to look like the sharecropper shack Steve Martin called home in “The Jerk.” I held my breath as we turned the corner, rehearsing the “oh sure, honey, it’s great” in my head. But I was gob smacked.
The neat white cottages facing the lake and the inn with the gingerbread trim, and the utterly amazing view of the lake and mountain behind it looked as they must have when the 300-acre Ames Farm opened in the Victorian age.
I got it. Right then and there I knew why he loved this place and why he still loved it. Much has changed on the lake sure – modern mansions are eating up some of the view, and there’s a lot more boats and jet skis making a lot more noise on the lake. Yet so much of Lake Winnipesaukee is still an authentic, old-fashioned vacation experience.
On the way out of town we passed the Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion where I’ve enjoyed so many outdoor concerts.
On to the Weirs home of The Weirs Times, the Lake Winnipesaukee Museum and my new favorite place ever – Funspot. Tom had never been here because he thought it was just another noisy bastion for pale adolescents. I assumed the same, but Funspot is so cool. Beside a vintage indoor mini golf course and side-by-side duckpin and candlepin bowling there is the home of the American Classic Arcade Game Museum with more than 250 coin operated amusements, including 36 pinball machines and 150 video games dating from 1973 to 1986 including original versions of Kong and Pac Man.
We decided to end our trip on Weirs Beach, which had been all I’d known about Lake Winnipesaukee. It too hasn’t changed all that much. It’s still a crowded beach with its flashy arcades, hamburger joints, souvenir shops, drive-in movie and tons of motorcycles – something that didn’t impress the new New Hampshire resident that was me over 30 years ago. But now I realize this part of the lake is for everybody – all the kids, all the visitors from elsewhere who might not have the money to rent a cottage or stay overnight in a fancy inn, but rather can’t wait for the first hot day to head for the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee if only for a day. NH